A recollection of the totalitarian and violent regime of Communists in Bengal.
Communist paradises of proletarians have essentially been backwaters of violence and victimization with stagnating waters of cultural, educational and ethical degeneration. While the story of Communist violence in the state of Kerala is now being told – with the launch of an exhibition curated by the Forum for Justice and Development, in Delhi, the sordid saga of Communist atrocities in West Bengal is yet to be narrated in its entirety.
It is imperative that that saga be narrated not only to highlight the shackles that Communism had bound over the spirit of Bengal but also to reveal how the institutionalization of violence in Bengal politics was a singular contribution of the Communists and of how, now that tradition and political habit continues with the TMC. Democratic opposition was never tolerated by the Communists in Bengal and violence became the prime instrument resorted to by the comrades to dissolve in the Bengali political space.
In West Bengal, in three decades that it was in power, the Communists have inflicted violence on the common people, especially those who have politically opposed them. In fact, the CPI-M and other Communist parties continue to stick to the cult of violence and whenever an occasion arise resorts to it. Their character is “anything between a fascist party and a Mafioso.”
Ever since it came to power in West Bengal in 1977, the CPI-M, for example, used murder as a political instrument in an organised manner. Ironically, on the one hand it nurtured and created a web of committed intellectuals who were often party card holders and were prolific in their literary and intellectual output, on the other hand it perpetrated violence as to control and regulate, especially the lower strata of society, the hapless farmer, the fisherman, the small trader, the refugee, who had to, perforce, become a member of the party and toe its line.
A brief list will reveal that the rule of Communists in West Bengal was one of the bloodiest episodes in democratic India’s history. The urban intellectuals, of course, kept silent throughout until it became politically incorrect to do so…but by then the cult of violence had been ingrained and cemented in the body politic of West Bengal.
Five violent episodes shall always remain the hallmark of Communist rule and define its violent politics in West Bengal. These episodes, among the many undocumented thousands, express the essentially anti-democratic spirit of Communism in India
1. Sainbari Killings (March 1970)
Much before they came to power heading the Left Front Government in 1977, the CPI-M leaders started experimenting with murder as a political instrument. Way back in 1970 CPI-M cadres murdered two important Congress leaders belonging to the Sain family of Burdwan. The level of bestiality that they stooped down to was evident by the fact that they made the mother of the two Sain brothers eat rice drenched with the blood of her dead sons. The shock made the mother lose her mental balance and state from which she never recovered till her death a decade later. Those communist cadres who perpetrated this violence went on to become ministers and MPs under the Left-Front government and were never brought to book.
The case which came to be known as the “Sainbari murders” has come to symbolise political violence in West Bengal. It is ironical to see the Congress depend for cerebral and political oxygen on the CPI-M today.
2. Marichjhapi Massacre (January 1979)
On Saraswati Puja Day, the Jyoti Basu-led Left front Government fired, starved, shot and killed Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, who had trooped into the state and had taken shelter in the Sunderban area. These refugees, largely Dalits who had escaped persecution in Bangladesh and sought shelter in India, were about 60,000 in number and “were taken in by the Left Front’s poll promises and had come over from the rehabilitation centre provided by the Centre in Dandakaranya (Odisha)” to Marichjhanpi in Suderban. Tear gas, blockade, firing, burning of camps were the methods used by CPI-M cadres and state police under Left front to disperse the refugees.
Many, while trying to escape, fell in the sea to be eaten by crocodiles; many bodies were dumped in the sea as well. Children – 8 years old, 12 years old, women and their babies, men and women in their seventies and eighties were killed in the firing. Till date, the exact number of deaths has not been known.” How many refugees died in police firing and how died when their boats sank while tried to escape will never be known. The refugees were hunted down just because a CPI-M government, led by proletarian leaders decided that they must be ousted. The CPI-M does talk of human rights and of the need for protecting it, but that talk is only reserved in favour of terrorists like Yakub Memon. Nor have those worthies now protesting at the FTII or their predecessors have ever made a documentary on the Marichjhapi pogrom.
3. Ananda Margi Monks Burnt Alive (April 1982)
Ananda Margis from all over the country were headed to an “educational conference” at the Tiljala centre in the southern suburbs of Kolkata when CPI-M cadres led by city leaders struck and burnt them alive. The party was wary that the Anand Margis would emerge as formidable force arresting their growth in the state. The procession wound its way was through what is now known as Bijon Setu in the Ballygunge area of south Kolkata.
Taxis carrying monks and sanyasins were intercepted at three separate locations, by CPI-M cadres the monks, two of whom were women, were doused in petrol and kerosene, and set on fire. At least 17 Margis were charred to death; several others were severely injured. The lynching was carefully planned and executed by Marxist cadres over a land dispute with the Marg. No CPIM leader has been brought to book till date.
4. Nanoor Massacre (July 2000)
CPI-M cadres and local leaders killed 11 landless Muslim labourers just because they were supporters of the opposition party and were resisting encroachment and land grabbing on July 27, 2000. The prime witness was also attacked and injured by CPI-M goons. The Statesman in an editorial wrote, “The sole purpose in attacking the prime witness in the gruesome Nanoor massacre of July 2000 in which 11 supporters were slaughtered by armed CPI-M cadres was to shield those responsible and abort their trial, by hook or by crook. The irony is that although five years have elapsed since the occurrence of the horrendous killings by the Marxists, the trial of their 79 accused comrades had not begun”.
The CPIM’s bike-riding “Harmad Bahini”, spread terror in the region, as it did over the years in areas where the Communist might was politically challenged. The pattern was to intimidate the women, burn huts, beat up and at times hack at the men and set fire to the collected grains before leaving. Often the villagers were compelled to leave the village and live in camps in neighbouring villages or had to leave the state altogether.
5. Nandigram Massacre (March 14, 2007)
The CPI-M-led government of the “poor and the peasants” tried to forcibly acquire 10,000 acres of agricultural land for a foreign company in Nandigram, in Purba Medinipur district. The farmers having formed a Bhumi Raksha Committee resisted the snatching of their lands. They were first attacked by CPI-M’s Harmad Bahini, who threatened and set fire to the villagers’ huts and prepared the ground that led to firing which saw over 14 farmers die and over 70 getting injured. The real figures will never be known, people saw piles of farmers’ bodies dumped. The government of the proletariat, which derived its strength from farmers and from landless labourers and from the poor, did not think twice while mowing them down.
While inaugurating the exhibition on Communist violence in Kerala, BJP president Amit Shah was right when he observed how “wherever BJP activists talk on ideology and development; the CPI-M workers commit murderous attacks on them” and that this was “not just happening in Kerala, but was “happening everywhere where their governments have been in power or in those areas where they are effective.”
In fact, this murderous method has been practised by the CPI-M and Communist parties against anyone who has spoken for or worked to strengthen India or the nationalist discourse. On every occasion, Indian Communists come out loudest, serving homilies on the correct approach to governance, correct conduct in public life and the need for an effective policy framework to tackle India’s myriad problems.
In reality, such a shallow talk is a smokescreen to hide their own active complicity in turning parts of our democratic polity into wastelands of conflict, violence and death. While it is hoped that scholars would someday take up the study of the saga of Communist violence in the country, aspirational India is increasingly rejecting such a regressive ideology and political method – that in itself is a sign of hope.